What is the hottest trend in cinema so far in 2019? Surprise – short film programs! This year, the annual theatrical touring program of Oscar Nominated Shorts set a series-high box office record in 2019 ($3.53 million), and at the recent 36th edition of Miami Film Festival, four separate shorts programs were among the fast sell-outs and were transferred into bigger auditoriums to try and keep up with the demand.
No wonder, then, that the Festival’s first special event of the new season is a new packaging of six short films, themed together by their Festival award-winner status. Screening together for the first time on Tuesday, April 9th at 7pm at Tower Theater Miami, the six shorts have a stirring, collective power when seen together in big-screen glory.
The program will open with the winner of the IMDbPro Short Film Award, the Brazilian film “The Orphan” by Carolina Markowicz. Jonathas, an outspoken young teenager who rules the roost at an urban orphanage, is selected by a childless young couple to join their family – but the couple is more focused on their own relationship than truly taking care of Jonathas. How Jonathas hangs on to his dignity and self-worth despite the sting of rejection is wonderous, surprising and euphoric – qualities that surely won the hearts of the IMDbPro jury members.
This year’s Knight Made in MIA Award jury voted to split the Best Short award between two films – Jayme Gershen’s “Six Degrees of Immigration” and Faren Humes’ “Liberty”. Gershen’s powerful sense of discovery through the lens of a camera (her background is a photographer) and evocative use of split-screen and voice-over bring a startling alertness to the personal documentary form. Detailing her ten-year-plus struggle with US immigration authorities to be able to bring her Colombian husband home to live with her, Gershen’s 11-minute compression of an epic emotional journey is all the more wrenching for its microcosmic brevity.
“Liberty” focuses on two young women living in Liberty City under the current cloud of rapidly-advancing gentrification and displacement. Humes expertly captures the inchoate emotional expression of the two friends, whose feelings of anger and pain are perhaps only released through dance, yet their bond and understanding of each other in moments of silent connection make up the film’s most potent scenes.
Another made-in-Miami story is Brian Blum’s “My Daughter Yoshiko”, winner of this year’s Zeno Mountain Award for breaking down barriers to understanding of people with disabilities. Yoshiko is a young Japanese girl diagnosed as autistic frequent anxiety attacks, but the film’s focus is on the anguish of Yoshiko’s mother, Saki (played with brilliant subtelty and complexity by the New York-based actress Saori Goda). Saki’s sense of shame (inherited from her conservative cultural background) about her daughter’s disability, and her own cathartic journey to dignity and self-worth link her very much to Jonathas from “The Orphan”.
Rounding out the program are two stories of Cuba, each based on true events. Brian Robau, a Miami native, won an unprecedented second Student Academy Award and the Festival’s HBO Ibero-american Short Film Award for “This is Your Cuba”, a beautiful and classically composed dramatization of one child’s story from the Pedro Pan operation of 1960-62, which remains the largest immigration of unaccompanied minors in the history of the Western Hemisphere. I pledge a free bag of popcorn to anyone who can resist shedding a tear at the scenes of separation in this superbly-acted drama. Finally, Jose Navas’ “The Rafter”, which won the Festival’s over-all Audience Award for Best Short, tells the story of Reinaldo Cruz, believed to be the first Cuban refugee to arrive on U.S. shores via a homemade raft. Mixing documentary reminisces with wide-screen, vivid photography and drama, “The Rafter” brings a new level of personal realism to the political and personal, often tragic headlines of the balseros who continue to risk their lives for freedom even to this day.
Tickets for FESTIVAL AWARD-WINNING SHORTS are now available for in-person purchase at Tower Theater Miami, 1508 SW 8th Street, during normal box office hours (www.towertheatermiami.com/visitors) or online at https://miamifilmfestival.com/festival-award-winning-shorts/.